Baltimore Judge Denies Change Of Venue Request For Freddie Gray Trials
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This hour starts in Baltimore, where a judge ruled that the trials of six police officers will not be moved from that city. Those officers are charged in the death of Freddie Gray. The judge said defense attorneys had failed to show compelling evidence that the officers cannot get a fair trial in Baltimore where Gray's arrest and fatal spinal injury occurred. NPR's Jennifer Ludden followed today's hearing and the reaction.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Early this morning, a few dozen protestors gathered outside the courthouse.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Keep the trial here. Keep the trial here.
LUDDEN: A local trial is only fair, they said. One woman carried a sign that read, in magic marker, they didn't bother to kill him elsewhere. Inside the courthouse, defense attorneys for the six police officers cited the protests, looting and arson that erupted after Freddie Gray's death last spring. They argued that nearly every citizen was impacted by those events - the curfew and state of emergency that followed. Some, they said, might feel pressure to render a guilty verdict to try and prevent more violence.
They also cited massive media coverage of the case and the $6 million civil settlement for Gray's family announced earlier this week, a move they said some jurors might think implies criminal guilt. Judge Barry Williams said none of that was compelling. Media coverage these days is global, he said, and to presume every citizen is biased, he said, would indict the whole jury system.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
LUDDEN: Tinika Frasier, a church administrator, was part of the happy crowd outside.
TINIKA FRASIER: Oh, I'm ecstatic. I'm ecstatic. Now, I know that we still have work to do, you know? We still have to stay organized, and we have to stay peaceful because we do want convictions.
LUDDEN: Frasier does think there is a better chance for convictions with the trial in Baltimore, but she insists it can be a fair trial.
FRASIER: There's 12 people in this city that can be fair. You know, I'm going to be honest with you. I may not be one of them, but there are 12.
LUDDEN: The city will need a total of 72 unbiased jurors plus alternates for the six separate trials the judge has ordered. Also outside the courthouse, university professor Lawrence Brown said courtroom bias is a matter of perception.
LAWRENCE BROWN: I think bias exists anywhere because in the suburbs, which are disproportionately white, we've hardly ever seen police indicted and convicted.
LUDDEN: If it does prove difficult to seat an impartial jury, defense attorneys could then ask for a change of venue again. But local criminal defense attorney Steven Levin doubts these cases will even get to jury selection.
STEVEN LEVIN: Because as a practical matter, I anticipate that none of these officers are going to want to have their case tried in front of a jury.
LUDDEN: Instead, he thinks they'll opt for a bench trial before a judge. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.